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How will european seaside destinations overcome the Covid-19 crisis? PART 2

The Mediterranean coast used to welcome many tourists who wanted to forget their everyday life on the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean Sea for a few weeks of well-deserved rest. What sustainability for the resort tourism model, based for some destinations on a large share of foreign clients? What impact during the crisis for accommodations? What are the reactions of the destinations?

The impact of the crisis has been violent in all European destinations

The RevPAR in France did not exceed €3 excluding VAT in April with ORs of 5% over the month, in May the trend was slightly reversed with ORs of 8.6% for a RevPAR of €5.30 excluding VAT, which is still far from the €64 excluding VAT generated in January 2020. As of March 12, the OR fell below the 50% mark, reaching 45.8%. The OR was thus maintained at 25.7% for a RevPAR barely reaching €23.9 excluding VAT

Spanish hoteliers had to face an administrative closure imposed by the government during a lockdown period. The announcement of the gradual easing of lockdown measures and the reopening of borders on July 1 allowed operators to plan for the reopening after 2 and a half very complex months, the effects of the Covid-19 crisis having begun to be felt in the occupancy of Spanish properties from March 8, when ORs fell below the 50% mark with 40.4% occupancy on March 8.

In Italy, performance declined from February 23, when the OR fell to 43% and has continued to fall ever since. Available properties were 5.3% occupied on average in March, with RevPAR averaging €5.6 excluding VAT. In April the OR was below 1%, in May the trend is the same. The reopening of borders on June 3 and the messages sent by the local authorities for the resumption of tourist activity will be decisive in safeguarding the hotel activity of a destination still mainly occupied by independent hotels which are more vulnerable to crises.

In Greece, from February 27, the situation began to deteriorate with an OR at 47.2% for a RevPAR at 47.8€ excl. tax. The month of March had reached a ceiling of 15.4% of OR for a RevPAR of €16 excluding VAT. From the beginning of April, the vast majority of properties were closed. Here too, the recovery will be decisive and the Greek government and its partners are working to send positive and reassuring signals to customers in Northern Europe, which will be decisive for the start of the summer season.

One thing is to be hoped, that the recovery will be as quick as the drop in performance. Although all the lost nights will never be made up for, the resumption of activity will be decisive for the survival of the majority of properties. Particular vigilance will have to be exercised on the prices charged by accommodation providers, who may be tempted to sell off prices in an attempt to attract customers to them to the detriment of the overall health of several destinations.

The destinations point of view Cross interviews with local government leaders, their point of view on the crisis, its consequences and the actions implemented.

  • Claire Béhar, Managing Director of the Regional Tourism Committee Côte d'Azur France
  • Michel Durrieu, Managing Director of the Regional Committee for Tourism in Nouvelle Aquitaine
  • Patrick Torrent, , Executive Director in the Agència Catalana de Turisme and President of the European network of sustainable destinations NECSTouR 
  • Kristjan Staničić, M. Sc., Directeur de l'Office de Tourisme de Croatie

What is the share of tourism in these destinations?

Catalonia Tourism for Catalonia represents 12% of GDP. It is between the first or second industry in Catalonia. Here in Catalonia there are a lot of industrial fabrics such as the automobile, which has developed us economically in recent years. But now, tourism is growing in strength and it is perhaps going to be the first economic industry in Catalonia.

Côte d'Azur France That is 150,000 direct and indirect jobs. 40% of the jobs in the destination are dependent on tourism consumption. It is also 20% of the GDP. [...] These are averages, in some destinations the proportion is even higher, especially the smaller coastal resorts. The Côte d'Azur has 53 % of its clientele, which is international. This can rise to 60 % in the summer. It is also a destination that is very much linked to air traffic.

Croatia In recent years, Croatia has seen a continuous increase in arrivals and overnight stays of domestic and foreign tourists. In 2019, on the basis of data from our visitor registration system, eVisitor, 109 million overnight stays were recorded, which is 2.5% more than in 2018. The positive trends in tourism in Croatia were also confirmed by financial indicators. Total tourism income from foreign guests in 2019 exceeded 10 billion euros, and tourism generates approximately 20% of GDP, while it is estimated that tourism employs more than 150,000 people in Croatia.

New Aquitaine It is the region's leading economic segment ahead of agriculture and aeronautics. This represents 18 billion euros in tourism revenue, or 144,000 jobs. We receive 32 million tourists and this represents 9% of the regional GDP

What are the impacts of the pandemic and what actions are being taken to deal with them?

Catalonia The impact on the business is terrible. We are almost at zero in terms of tourist activity in Catalonia. International connections have suffered a 95% drop, with only 5% of air connections to Catalan airports remaining. Above all, this 5% will focus on essential work, to transport people in essential sectors. At the property level, the situation is similar. There is a 90% drop in activity and the 10% are focused mainly in essential industries to accommodate people working in the health or social sector. This is a terrible situation for the whole sector, which is now working towards gradual reopening, especially with guarantees for the health and safety of visitors. Here in Catalonia, there are still greater restrictions in terms of mobility but now the situation of the health crisis seems to be under control. Safety measures to safeguard the health of visitors are being adopted everywhere: by restaurants, by hotels, for example, here around me today there are perhaps five or six hotels that are open. They are not open to the public, but they are working to guarantee safety and to develop preventive measures. I see that there is an effort and I see the conviction of some people to be more secure than ever and to be able to welcome visitors when the borders are open.

There are measures adopted in two stages. The first line of work has been emergency and, above all, information. We have created a Covid space on our website to inform the sector so that it can make decisions. We have above all talked about the safety of the measures and the organised closure of the tourist sector in the first phase of the health crisis. After that, we created a support programme to accompany Catalan businesses, microbusinesses and self-employed workers in the tourism sector to allow them to breathe and to be able to support the situation. At that time, there were 1,450 direct grants to the sector, with a sum of €2,500 for each one. We committed 3.5 million in direct investment in the sector

Now we are in the process of opening another €9 million support line. With its €9 million we will try to help the types of companies that can benefit from the aid, such as companies that support the sector. We must preserve the industrial fabric of this sector and that is why we have made this aid. It guarantees that the fabric that supports the experiment in Catalonia is not going to disappear, because that could happen. Because there are many companies that are in a critical situation and we have decided to help them and offer them these oxygen balloons.

The second phase is recovery. We are working with the sector to develop a communication campaign and to regain confidence in the destination. Repositioning the Catalonia brand to work on the idea of emotional vehicles for all tourists. We are going to appeal to their feelings. We are going to appeal to those people who have been locked down for 70 or maybe 80 days and now need more than ever to recover all the opportunities of the tourist destinations that Catalonia can offer you.

And that is why we are going to communicate especially to the local market, especially in France, where we receive almost 5 million tourists every year. But also in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Although Brexit's situation is currently in transition, its market could arrive in Catalonia by car or by plane. Trends and changes in customer behaviour lead us to believe that arrivals by car will be higher than usual, and that is why we will try to focus the communication to local markets that could arrive in Catalonia.

Côte d'Azur France We were very impacted in March in terms of corporate tourism with the cancellation of major events. Professionals therefore very quickly became aware of the extent of the impact of this health crisis, which was to turn into an economic crisis. The local authorities, the Alpes Maritimes department, the agglomeration community and the region set up funds. The Alpes Maritimes department has set up an emergency fund, which has been set up by the Nice Côte d'Azur Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It is endowed with more than 8 million euros, more than 80% of which has already been used.

There is the solidarity managed by the region implemented with the State. We have also relayed all the information on the mechanisms made available by the government. [...] we have also relayed the measures put in place by the municipalities on, for example, the postponement or exemption from terrace fees. We centralized all this information that we put online. We regularly send out newsletters to keep everyone up-to-date on developments.

As early as March, we created technical committees to exchange our information and have good public-private coordination. We work in close collaboration with the hotel unions, the restaurant unions, the airport, the chamber of commerce, all the tourist offices of the territory, the department of the Alpes-Maritimes, the region and we also coordinate with the CRT Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur to have all, the same level and the same quality of information. David Lisnard, who is the president of the CRT Côte d'Azur France and mayor of Cannes, relays the requests of professionals at the state level. [...] We are here to support our tourism professionals and our companies during this transition period, before a recovery that we hope to see as soon as possible. In all humility, we continue to bring the destination to life on social networks. We have participated in the #fenêtresurlaFrance initiative and we have created a #fenêtresurlaCôtedAzur which allows us to share our beautiful images, our memories, what we would like to do during the end of the lockdown. This allows us to continue to have a link with our community. We also have a #CôtedAzurFrance which is followed by 670000 fans. This #fenêtresurlaCôtedAzur has allowed us to deploy another communication during this transition period. We do quizzes [...] a dynamic to maintain the community of lovers of the French Riviera.

Croatia We have seen a large decrease in tourist traffic, with a cumulative decrease of about 70%, which will have a negative impact on revenues. Businesses in the tourism sector have so far been well aware of the crisis, because with the support of the government, they have adopted measures and used assistance to offset the economic impact during this decline. This has made it possible to preserve jobs and the liquidity of businesses, which was the strategic objective of the measures. We are approaching the high summer season, during which, due to the excellent epidemiological situation in our country, we hope to generate some tourist traffic and resume some tourism within a realistic framework.

New Aquitaine We're clearly going to have a problem. End of lockdown will take a very long time with borders that will remain closed for a while. Foreign tourism is going to be heavily impacted. We estimate a loss of more than 60% for foreign clients over the year as a whole. There will also clearly be an impact for the Basque Region since the Spanish border is likely to be very fluid. There has been a period of awarenessraising among the players. Initially they were not aware of the seriousness of the situation. It took several weeks for there to be a real awareness. Information had to be given, to see the seriousness of the health crisis and the economic crisis. So of the impact it was going to have on tourism. We said very early on that there would be no April and no bank holidays. It was a very difficult speech to deliver. We informed professionals that there would be economic choices to be made, that we would have to adapt the offer. We invited them to think about it together. We explained to them that we had to start thinking about cancelling events. Some of them resisted. Then there was financial aid from the region to supplement the state aid. It was necessary to stop having traditional communication during this period. It is all this support that we implemented

What vision of their post-Covid 19 destinations?

Catalonia This parenthesis has opened up the opportunity and the reflection of the consumer, who will be more aware than ever of the common need to work in a sustainable and competitive model. For this sustainability and competitiveness, we must work along two lines, the first being social, cultural, environmental and also economic and tourist sustainability. The second will be digitalisation. We have just done a forced immersion of digitalisation in 80 days. But it is true that some of the things we have learned during these periods will be useful in these new sustainable and competitive models that we are going to build.

Côte d'Azur France This crisis will be an accelerator of the emerging trends towards more sustainable tourism. More sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. The trends were the return to a more natural, responsible tourism, in search of wide open spaces. In the very short term, we are expecting the reopening of the 15 departmental and regional nature parks and the Mercantour nature park. [...] We have assets on the Côte d'Azur linked to this tourism of the beauty of preserved landscapes.

On the wings of the season, what was also very important for us was event tourism based on culture, sport and corporate tourism. It was a very important market for our hoteliers, our plagists and our restaurateurs, to start the tourist season as early as March and then extend it as long as possible. As a CRT, we were doing a lot of promotion to deseasonalize tourism and make tourism on the Côte d'Azur live all year round knowing that tourism was born there in winter.

Croatia The crisis has shown the importance of tourism for many economies, its deep link and impact on other segments of the economy. It is certain that tourism, especially in this first period after the Corona virus crisis, will be different in the way processes are carried out, as the focus will be on health, safety and security measures that will enable us to put an end to this pandemic. However, we understand that people are eager to travel and that is something we must all keep in mind as we build the future of tourism together, while taking even greater care of the environment and sustainable development.

New Aquitaine The New Aquitaine is the first destination of the French. We have a very high level of loyalty from French customers. [...] 50% of French people will always go to the same place on holiday. Fifty percent of French people will always swim on the same beach. We can estimate that the French will continue to come to New Aquitaine this year.

There will be transport constraints. Many French people have been affected by the disease. Technical unemployment will have an economic and household impact. The 16% loss of salary, corresponds to the leisure and holiday budget of the French. There will therefore be a definite impact. People will want to visit their families before going on holiday.

First of all, we expect a lot of solidarity in New Aquitaine. We launched the Solidarity Tourism communication very early, just before the announcement of the lockdown. We were the first region to say "Stay home". We joined forces with the UNWTO, which at the same time said: Travel Tomorrow. [...] We also reported on the solidarity actions of professionals in the sector. [...] We are now going to ask for a certain solidarity from the French, especially those who are used to coming to our destinations. [...] This situation will require a lot of solidarity.

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